Delaware River Basin safe from fracking (for now)

Good news!  On Friday, the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) cancelled its scheduled vote to approve new rules governing fracking in the Delaware River Basin – effectively ensuring that this exceptional watershed will remain off-limits to this risky industrial practice for the near future.

The Delaware River Basin is a critical and irreplaceable resource that must be protected. Over 15 million people (approximately five percent of the nation's population) rely on its waters for drinking, agricultural, recreational and industrial use. Moreover, nearly half of New York City’s famously unfiltered drinking water comes from the Basin. The watershed’s economic, social and environmental benefits are undeniable, and for this reason its protection is of the utmost importance.

Last December, the DRBC published draft regulations to permit and regulate fracking in the Delaware River Basin (where there’s currently a moratorium on fracking).  The public outcry against these shortsighted regulations has been enormous. Organizations and individuals, including NRDC, submitted more than 40,000 comments on the proposed regulations, criticizing the regulations as insufficiently protective of the environment and human health. And in recent weeks, countless concerned citizens have called, written and e-mailed the DRBC and other government officials in opposition to the vote.  NRDC’s own president, Frances Beinecke, joined them, calling on the five members of the Commission – representatives of President Obama, and the states of New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware – not to move forward to approve risky new fracking in the Basin without first preparing a comprehensive environmental analysis as required by law.

As the New York Attorney General has asserted in a pending lawsuit, the DRBC is required under federal law to complete an environmental impact statement (EIS) before it takes any action – such as approving new regulations that would open up this critical watershed to new gas drilling and fracking – that may have significant environmental effects. The EIS process was designed to promote informed government decision-making, and requires agencies to explore positive and negative environmental effects of actions before they are taken, and also to consider alternative actions. Clearly, the information uncovered as part of the EIS process is essential to have before the DRBC decides whether and how to permit fracking.

Now that the vote has been rightly cancelled or postponed, if in fact it intends to proceed with its consideration of new gas drilling within the watershed, the Commission must conduct a thorough environmental analysis of the potential consequences of fracking in this irreplaceable resource. Hydraulic fracturing should not be permitted in the Delaware River watershed unless DRBC has made a determination that it can be accomplished safely, with full protections for water and air resources, special places and human health. Quite simply, no such conclusion could possibly be drawn without the benefit of comprehensive environmental review.